Horrible side effects of the Zika virus, including severe deformities in babies

Scientists have warned the already feared Zika virus is only a step away from becoming more harmful.

The virus is best known in the UK for when it hit major news headlines ahead of the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil.

The first cases in the country were detected in 2014, but a theory that it was brought over by football fans in the World Cup in 2014 was later dismissed by boffins.

The Brazil outbreak was one of the most significant outbreaks of the virus we have seen and there were also dozens of cases in Kanpur, India in November 2021.

The disease can cause grim side effects for those that are vulnerable to it, resulting in things like deformities in babies.

What are the symptoms of the Zika virus?

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The symptoms of the Zika virus include a headache and joint pain, though it can cause nasty side effects in particularly vulnerable patients like pregnant women.

Zika pregnancies can result in birth defects in babies, known as 'microcephaly'. This is where a baby's head is smaller than otherwise expected as the brain may not have developed properly.

How severe this is can range from very mild symptoms and a smaller head to problems with movement and balance, or learning disabilities.

More worrying than this is 'congenital Zika syndrome', where babies can have anything from a club foot, severe microcephaly (in which a part of the skull collapses), restricted body movements and decreased brain tissue and eye damage.

It should be noted that anyone catching Zika in its current form will usually have mild symptoms and it is only harmful in very rare cases.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Headache
  • Joint pain
  • Conjunctivitis (red eyes)
  • Muscle pain

Symptoms usually last for several days to a week.

The Centre for Disease Control said: "People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected."

In rare cases, Zika may cause Guillain-Barré, which a person's "own immune system damages the nerve cells". This is said to be able to cause muscle weakness or even paralysis.

In extremely rare cases, it may cause "severe disease affecting the brain". This may cause the spinal cord or brain to swell or a blood disorder resulting in clotting.

What is the Zika virus?

The Zika virus is a "mosquito-borne" mild illness first identified in monkeys in Uganda in 1947. It was later found in humans in Uganda and Tanzania in 1952.

Recent studies have indicated that the virus is very close to possible mutations that would make it more easily spread.

It is mainly spread from person to person after a bite from an infected mosquito, though it can be spread through having sex in very rare cases. The type of mosquitoes that spread the virus are not found in the UK.

Dr Clare Taylor, from the Society for Applied Microbiology, said of the new research to the BBC: "Although these findings were seen in laboratory experiments and therefore have limitations, it does show that there is potential for variants of concern to arise during the normal Zika transmission cycle and reminds us that monitoring is important to follow viruses as they evolve."

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